Respond to Sharon and Morgan to discuss conversation theory!

This post is part of the Atlas book group discussing the Knowledge Thread.

- Knowledge is created through conversation, and language is an
influential part of that.
— L0 is basic and allows the “negotiation” of the conversation.
It is mostly directional.
— L1 is more specialized and “furthers” the conversation.
— In most libraries, there is a requirement for a translator
(librarian) because users are not part of the
language/system/conversation. What do you think about this situation?

- A major flaw with most knowledge systems is that there is just input
and output. As a result, there is no room for feedback and
improvement. What are some methods of inviting feedback/improvement?

Some questions to discuss:
– Do you think that a system should be made for all users without
training, or should users be required to learn the system’s
specialized language in order to use it?

- If our goal as librarians is to facilitate knowledge creation, we -
YOU are a conversant. Who are you conversing with?

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  • Anonymous

    I think a good idea for getting feedback would be to have a webpage where there is an option to be able to comment on how the patron likes or doesn’t like something. For instance, say there is someone who had trouble finding things on the library website. They could leave a comment on the webpage about why they had trouble and maybe even include ways to improve the site. It’s always important to include the members of the community in the conversation of how to improve things at the library.

    • Matthew Gunby

      I think beyond just feedback and response, it might be interesting and useful to launch unpolished, Beta-models, so members are actively helping to create a resource.  Obviously costs and the library’s reputation are issues, if you are releasing an unpolished product, but I think the benefits of this route should also be considered.

      • Sharon Kim

        Hey, Matthew, I’m a bit uninformed, so can you explain or give an example of what you mean by the “unpolished Beta-models”? It sounds really interesting!

        • Matthew Gunby

          Basically, a programming term, a number of applications and games will be introduced in Beta form, before they are actually published and put on the market.  For instance, Google Mail was in Beta for many years, and I believe Google Plus is still in it’s Beta form.  Often these applications are introduced to a more exclusive group, whether through an individual sign-up or through people who are already connected to products of a given company.  I am not sure if I would follow this approach in terms of library programs (I am trying to disambiguate terms by using programs to apply broadly to any digital or physical initiative, and application to only apply to computer programs).  However, one approach that might make sense is to have a test group who are already invested in a library, regular members or volunteers who might better appreciate an initiative even if it ends in failure.  While I understand risk-aversion, I feel like libraries need to be taking a number of chances to see how they can best serve their communities in this rapidly changing environment.  I also believe (perhaps naively) that a community will accept failures better if they are part of a continuing attempt to develop great value within that community. 

          • Mgoodwin

            That is really interesting! It may create some problems, but maybe if users were given the choice to use the previous programs or try the new “beta” one. I know in out interlibrary loan office we were one of the first to get the Illiad software. There were many bugs with it, but it was nice being able to point them out and suggest changes/improvements to the company. Another advantage here was that when other libraries switched to the new version, we were a head of the game and our staff actually helped teach other libraries. If we connect these ideas with the possibilities for new “apps” for libraries the possibilities could be amazing! (or maybe we would all just get head aches lol)

          • Jillian Healy

            Thanks for that very well written description!  I ran into a reference to ‘Beta’ in one of my other classes, and was unsure as to what it meant, and the sources I found were not at all as informative as what you just said!  I’m glad that now I know!

  • Sharon Kim

    My college library once put a huge notepad (not sure what they’re called?) out near the front door and on each floor, so that students could write down anything they wanted to see from the library. It was a somewhat sloppy? informal? way of getting feedback, but students liked writing on the pads. We got responses ranging from “The northwest corner of the 2nd floor needs better lighting” to “I want a bed” and “Coffee.”

    So, yes, chances are, if people respond with feedback, you are going to get a wide range of responses that might not necessarily be right for everyone or even for the library as a whole. At that point, it’s our job to decide 1) What do most people want and 2) Is this something that we can do? I honestly don’t think that everyone can be satisfied about everything in the library, but we can try our best :)

    • Anonymous

      I kind of like the idea of the notepad, even though it might be sloppy and informal. With any sort of feedback mechanism, you are going to get suggestions that are way out there and can’t be carried out. But there is also the chance that many people are having issues with the same thing and then they can vocalize their need. Like Sharon says, it is then at the discretion of the librarians to decide what can be done about certain issues, but at least people have a chance to get their opinions out in the open, even if they may be extravagant.

    • Erin Lee

      I think that this a great idea since it is more informal than a survey (and often people don’t answer surveys anyway or, the ones who do, are the ones with massive issues and this will easily skew results).  At my library back in Cambridge we had a comments book for visitors to the Old Library (built in 1624, nice smell, old books and manuscripts…you get the picture) and often the comments were very flattering but sometimes they gave small but great suggestions that could only be suggested from a visitor’s point of view.  Regular visitors liked commenting since they knew that we took it seriously and changed what we could so perhaps a notepad idea should have a corresponding ‘reply’ column from the librarian giving some idea of whether they have implemented it or, if not, why not.  They had a similar format for maintenance issues at my undergrad college and people were more satisfied when they could see what had been done for their complaint/suggestion etc. and why.

  • Anonymous

    Does the establishment of a system using specialized language necessarily come at the expense of availability to all users at multiple levels of training?  I believe there is a vast and viable possibility to conduct a conversation using specialized language that is also accessible to those unfamiliar with the language.  Wikipedia has a great system for doing so by making the text of terminology and concepts that may be esoteric for conversants with less familiarity with the subject matter linkable.  Providing links to these concepts can give un-trained conversants a working understanding of specialized terms and theories for the sake of the conversation.  This has the double effect of providing an “ad hoc” incarnation of that training without slowing or watering down the greater conversation for all conversants; as well as giving all users access to create knowledge at the same time whether they have been learned in the specialized language for decades, or they are coming to the table with a fresh pair of eyes.

    -Darren J. Glenn

  • Anonymous

    One System for all or a System of systems?
    I think a major strength of the Scape’s suggestion in this chapter, is that it levies the pre-existing L₁ vocabularies that our communities and sub-communities have already developed around an area of inquiry. For example, I can image the kind of Scapes that a historical society could create linking library resources in a contextual map and see that as an ideal interface for someone interested in learning about the history of an area. Likewise area scientists could make fascinating Scapes during their research, which community members could use as learning environments and tools.

    But meanwhile, we librarians still need to be the ones with the /memory/ of what resources are available, credible and up-to-date. I tend to think that the error of cataloging today (and those ‘type to search the world’ text-boxes) is that we think of those as tools for the user/member/owners. We who are versed in the subject disambiguations that we have used to sort through material, skilled in Boolean searching, need this tools in order to have the kind of memory for which we are valued.

    I don’t think the peculiar L₁ languages that we librarians use to catalogue and make sense of our resources are necessarily out of date provided they do the work for which we invented them, they help /us/ find what the user/member/owners need. I think a big part of the current feeling that librarians are obsolete is the wide-spread availability of powerful search technologies makes users feel responsible for learning the syntax of the system, and makes them feel bad when they resort to L₀ interactions that our less satisfying. We need some system which helps us make sense of what we have to offer, as librarians, which should be connected to, but not the same as, the system we make available to users/members/owners to facilitate their conversations.

  • Ben Chartoff

    Since we had four “mini” threads, our group had an
    interesting opportunity to observe how conversations evolve (how appropriate to
    the chapter!) from four different seed values.


    The conversation theory discussion thread started off with
    some interesting comments on the “hard” theories in the chapter, but really
    took off when the discussion shifted towards the means by which library patrons
    can give feedback, and how libraries should respond to the feedback.


    The discussion on knowledge creation didn’t go as far as we
    wanted but it definitely sparked a conversation on such an abstract thought! We
    wanted to create a conversation by adding on to what the previous person had
    said, making this creation totally up to the person! The last comment was
    “Especially when you’re unsure of what the quest is….. water guns?”
    Yes the “quest” we created was about water guns but we wanted people
    to create a story which it sort of did! Knowledge creation is not just taking
    artifacts for what they are worth, but by putting them to use and creating a
    better understanding or something completely different, which we tried to
    accomplish here.


    While the app challenge was purely theoretical and fun
    exercise, it did reveal something very interesting.  Most apps tend to be seen as technical applications, not
    social ones.  However, almost all
    of the apps in one way or another helped connect the community with others,
    whether directly like the book club app and the community events one or indirectly
    like the reading recommendation one that’s generated by a librarian (not
    statistics).  The apps did not
    replace the librarian; instead they helped further involve the library in
    people’s lives.


    The scapes conversation didn’t develop far at all (there was
    only one comment, an astute criticism, which we hoped might lead to a spirited
    debate—it did not). We have three possible explanations for the low response rate
    1.) the scapes section of the book was a mix of theory and practical
    applications—respondents who were interested in hard theory responded to the
    conversation theory thread, respondents interested in practice replied to the
    app challenge, so scapes got lost in the middle 2.) not everyone may have read
    the section on scapes, and therefore could not respond (we don’t have any
    preexisting knowledge of scapes to write about) or 3.) the first post disagreed
    with the textbook, and other participants may have been unwilling to enter into
    an argument or even a disagreement.


    Thanks for your responses, everyone, we really enjoyed
    facilitating this conversation!